God’s Beating Heart
By Monica Hix, Spirituality Program participant
As the oldest of four children and a type-A person, I have lived a life of doing and accomplishing. I learned early on that it was the path to gaining affirmation and strokes from those I loved. It even spilled over into my spiritual life. I’ve often described myself as getting out in front of God; racing ahead and taking care of stuff. So much so that I actually miss out on experiencing where God is showing up in my ordinary life. I am the product of a culture that is driven by doing.
As a 30-something mother of two young children, I was introduced to Centering Prayer at a women’s retreat. It sounded so appealing to me. I’m sure it was the stage of life I was in – a very full and noisy period. I came home from that retreat determined to weave Centering Prayer into my daily life. Let’s just say, it didn’t take. My prayer life back then was more akin to Anne Lamott’s approach – Help! Thanks! Wow! Pray as you can, not as you can’t.
The years passed, my children grew up and left home, and I continued to feel a tug towards contemplative prayer. I watched videos of Father Thomas Keating teaching Centering Prayer, read books by him and Cynthia Bourgeault on the topic, and attended workshops. What has drawn me into the practice of Centering Prayer is the focus on being, not doing. It is an invitation to let go and surrender; to rest in the presence of God.
For me, it’s helped to have a “sacred space” in my house, a place where I go to pray. There’s something about the body memory of placing myself in the same chair every morning that invites me into the time of prayer. Father Keating teaches the use of a sacred word that leads us into the silence and expresses our consent to God’s presence. He also says that some people are better suited to a loving gaze toward God. I’ve found that both approaches invite me to sink deeper into a time of resting in God.
About two years ago, a small group began meeting at my house each Wednesday morning for a time of group Centering Prayer. This time of prayer is a bit different from my private time of prayer. We gather in a circle and I set a central table with visual elements that invite us into the space and time together. We begin by lighting a candle to celebrate the presence of God with us. Then one of us reads a short passage (scripture, meditational thought) as an invitation to this time of prayer. We use the Centering Prayer app on my phone to chime us in and out of our 20 minutes of prayer. To close, we each light a candle on the table and then we voice a prayer of blessing and benediction. Together we’ve discovered the gifts of companioning one another on this journey.
The practice of Centering Prayer has shaped and transformed my life. I’ve noticed changes in myself – a deeper sense of peace, greater love and compassion toward others, living more fully awake to the presence of God within and around me, an awareness of my true Self. The practice of letting go and surrendering in this prayer has carried over into other areas of my life.
I’m learning the wisdom of releasing my tight grip on things. I’m learning to find a healthy rhythm of being and doing. I’m learning to trust that I am always being carried in the gracious river of God’s love. As Father Keating teaches, when we consent to God’s presence during Centering Prayer, we discover that our interior life is getting rearranged. And that’s good news!
There are still many days when I struggle to let go of the chatter and list-making that occurs during the moments of prayer. That’s what makes it a true spiritual practice. Keating reminds us, we’re not to judge the prayer time. Thank goodness! If there was judging involved, I would have given up a long time ago. We just give ourselves over to it.
What draws me back day after day is my desire to be in the transforming presence of Divine Love. I’ve discovered that my soul needs the silence and stillness that Centering Prayer offers. It invites me to rest from my doing and discover God’s heart beating within mine.
Resources for learning more about Centering Prayer:
Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating
Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault
This post was originally written for Columbia Theological Seminary and published on their blog. Explore opportunities through the Spirituality Program at ctsnet.edu